Grilled's brave stand against Parkway Paladins lasted for all of half an hour, as they demonstrated exactly just why they had managed to stand atop Singapore undisputed last season. While the Birds could hardly dispute their decorated opponents' overall superiority, they had to be justified in being sour about the ending too, in which Paladins' Abdul-Wahhab Tourani turned it on after putting Massoud Dob
out of commission.
It was evident that Paladins were odds-on favourites after the team sheets were revealed, as Diego Llovera took no chances. He clearly tailored his formation towards Grilled to boot, with former Taiwanese national forward Chen Jiming - one of the holdovers from the last meeting between the clubs - acting as lone targetman, and four playing a narrow backline.
If this did in theory allow Grilled's wingers some room to express themselves, they would soon find it much easier said than done. Paladins were an exceedingly finely-tuned unit, and it was no sooner that a Grilled player got past one, when he would find his offensive options blocked. Vikram Mudaliar
tried and failed to force matters against Apollonas Androutsopoulos in the 23rd minute, and was booked for dissent when referee Gregorio Pérez disagreed that he had been unfairly hindered.
The Birds kept plugging away optimistically, even if they were utterly unsuccessful in getting Paladins goalie Hugo Araujo involved. It appeared the height of their achievement when Islom Davlatov
fought to win a corner kick whilst being outmuscled... but Neeraj Muthyala
would then send the Grilled fans into rapture, when he somehow leapt highest to nick it in from there.
Muthyala had, of course, also been Grilled's only scorer in that 1-4 defeat seven seasons ago, and although the gap between the teams had arguably only widened, some things didn't change. That, unfortunately, also put Paladins out of casual mode, and skipper Mak Teck Jian led the rally. Indian fullback Maulik Ghosh overlapped expertly, and Mak would do the honours himself.
There was no question who was in the driving seat after that, as Paladins went through the gears; it was all Massoud Dob
could to to palm Ang Hock Qiang's vicious drive against the post in the 39th minute, but nobody could likely have stopped Paladins' inspired counter as the end of the half approached. Chan Ze Han
's stumble saw Abdul-Wahhab Tourani bearing down on Dob in less than ten seconds, and they - together with Yuta Nakakita
- crumpled into a single heap, as the ball rolled over the line.
Although Pérez booked Yuta for his late and ineffectual challenge, it was Dob who took the brunt of it, as Tourani fell right atop him. Grilled would quickly have more reason to be enraged, as the referee then allowed the match to resume, despite Dob still receiving treatment. He was left to scramble back into position, but Androutsopoulos had lined up his shot regardless for 1-3.
had to be physically restrained by his assistants from approaching Pérez at half-time, but to be brutally honest, Paladins were very good value for their two-goal lead. Grilled were simply unable to get themselves in contention once their opponents got serious, and the scoreline was a simple reflection of that reality.
The Birds had no Plan B either, which doomed them against a Paladins side that had long seen through them. With their wide outlets stifled, Grilled looked to Moey Xin Seng
to coordinate from the middle, but he couldn't do much against Paladins' deceptively hard-pressing midfield. There was thus little surprise when Androutsopoulos dribbled through for his second in the 59th, or when Mak Teck Jian potted after a sustained barrage in the 67th.
The Grilled fans could only sulk at those top-drawer finishers, but they would soon be able to be legitimately outraged. Tourani, ever the driven competitor, wouldn't slow down in chasing a ball that Massoud Dob
was always getting to first. In doing so, he wound up stepping on the very left ankle that Dob had injured earlier.
This was far too much of a coincidence for the Grilled bench, and it was Noubaryan's turn to try and maintain order - though one could almost feel the Grilled head coach seething too. Tourani was booked, of course, but Dob - who had never looked completely mobile after that first incident - definitely had to go off. Veteran reserve goalie Dan Seng
would take over stoically.
While there certainly wasn't much pressure on Seng, he would wind up conceding three more, and all from Tourani. Chu Xin Lee
did come close to getting Grilled a second consolation before that, but his magnificent lob from near the halfway line was just inches away from embarassing Araujo.